Accident prone drivers on road courses

Whether it’s a fantasy race or behind the wheel, success requires avoiding drivers who pile up a lot of crashes and spins.

But identifying the drivers involved in most crashes and spins on road courses is more difficult than on other types of tracks.

Recent warning history

Statisticians typically calculate accidents and spins from the caution list issued by NASCAR for each race. The sanctioning body classifies the reason for each caution and which cars were involved.

Warnings increase in 2022 compared to last year. The chart below summarizes the number and types of incidents across 24 races each season.

This graph shows the number of cautions after 24 races for each season.

I’ve darkened the race and end-of-scene warning bars to emphasize what we call “natural warnings.” Natural cautions include everything except end-of-stage and race cautions.

History reveals trends. For example, the chart shows wreck warnings dropping from 36 in 2016 to 16 in 2017 when NASCAR implemented the wrecked vehicle policy.

The biggest cause for caution every year is accidents. The 2021 season had the fewest accidents (64) since 1986 — that’s how far back I have reliable safety data. This year we have counted 86 accidents.

The 47 spins we did is more than triple last year’s 15 spins. The increase in turns is due to the next gen car being harder to drive than the old gen 6 car. The lack of asymmetry makes the current car much harder to ‘catch’ when it starts cornering.

While there are more accidents in 2022 than in 2021, they are down from 2020 when we had 92 at this point in the season.

Is 2022 really high? Or was 2021 unusually low?

Road courses are unique

I’m all for NASCAR experimenting with everything from format to schedule, even though their experiments make my job harder. The fewer constants in the data, the more complex the analysis.

The plot below details this year’s alerts by type and race.

Stacked vertical bar chart showing the number and types of cautions for the first 24 races of 2022.

The Indianapolis road stats immediately jumped out at me.

I didn’t need to look up data to know there was more than one spin in this race. And definitely more than one incident.

Watching the race video convinced me that cautions are not an accurate way to measure accidents and spins on road courses. The road courses are long and scattered. Cars can safely leave the track or return to racing after an accident without the need for warning.

That doesn’t change the fact that there was an accident.

Incident counts are subjective. I have only included incidents that caused a significant loss of position or damaged a car enough to force an unplanned pit stop.

In addition to the incidents on the official caution list, the 2022 Indianapolis road course had:

  • 10 crashes
  • Nine spins
  • Five off-piste excursions
  • Two different incidents

The one “official” crash, plus the 10 I counted, makes 11 crashes — more than any other track this year. No track has scored a total of nine spins in one race. And off-piste excursions on a road course would hit the wall on oval tracks.

I counted incidents from the other three road courses this year, again based on video.

Table showing the number of non-salient incidents in 2022

I counted 19 accidents and 24 more spins this year than the official totals, making the increase from 2021 even bigger.

Or does it?

Until 2017, the Cup Series visited two road courses each season: Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Uncaught incidents were not as important for two reasons. First, the road courses were two races of 29 or more – from 5.5% to 6.9% of the schedule. Second, the year-to-year difference in the numbers of the two songs is probably small.

But in 2021, road courses made up 19.4% of the Cup Series schedule.

Table showing how the number of road courses in the Cup Series has changed in recent years

NASCAR replaced four tracks where cautions caught most accidents and spins with four tracks where they didn’t.

The huge increase in spins this year is real. We haven’t had more spins in a season since 2002.

But the accident totals are suspect until we go back and count road accidents in 2021. The drop in accidents from 2020 to 2021 may be due (at least in part) to schedule changes, not drivers.

Implications for Watkins Glen

The number of unreported accidents probably doesn’t interest fantasy racers as much as knowing which drivers are most prone to accidents and spins on road courses.

From my count of incidents at the four road courses held this year, the drivers involved in the most incidents are Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and AJ Allmendinger.

Each was involved in at least five incidents. The number of accidents is greater than the number of races because drivers who have spins or accidents often have more than one in a race.

Todd Gilliland and Michael McDowell managed to avoid accidents entirely on the road courses. Other full-time drivers with minimal involvement in road accidents include: Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Chris Buscher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Corey LaJoie.

Ryan Blaney, who is currently battling Truex for the last open playoff spot in points, has had four road course accidents this year.

How does all this information factor into the selection for Watkins Glen (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, USA Network)?

Of the list of drivers with the most accidents, only Chastain has won on a road course this year.

The other three winners are listed with the fewest incidents involved.

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